The Shape of Love

We are able to love God and others because, the Bible tells us, God first loved us (1 John 4:7, 10-12, 16). Think of our love for others as an overflow of God’s love for us. When we receive the love of God, we can’t help but love God and others.

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he had over 600 commandments to choose from. The Israelites had a lot of commands they were commanded to obey in the Old Testament. Would Jesus say, “Do not murder” is the most important? Would he answer, “Have no other gods before God” was the primary commandment? No, instead, he summed up the Ten Commandments by saying, the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Then, he said, and the second most important commandment is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. 

By commanding us to love God and our neighbors, Jesus summed up the main points of the Ten commandments. The Ten Commandments show us what this love looks like. The first four commandments emphasize our love for God, while the last six focus on neighbor-love.

But even there, we think we’re obeying these commands by NOT doing something we’re commanded not to do. But the commandments mean so much more. For example, not only are we NOT to murder another person, but we are to have their best interest at heart and try to help them when we can. There’s a positive side of every command, just as there is a negative side.

The Good Samaritan not only committed no harm to the injured Jewish man (The Jews and Samaritans hated each other, as groups of people). But the Samaritan did more than “not hurt” the Jewish man, he helped him. He put the Jewish man’s needs before his own. He went out of his way to help him and then made sure that if more was required, that too would be taken care of. Jesus is telling us that that is what our love for others should look like. 

That’s the shape of Christian love. And most importantly, that’s how God loves us. We aren’t called to love others because they deserve it any more than God loves us because we’re so awesome. We love others because the grace-filled love of God flows in us and through us so that we can love others with God’s love. Thanks be to God for his love. Amen.

New Book: The Way of the Lord

God calls us to live a life of love. The Bible teaches us there is a shape to this love. The love God calls us to looks like something. It has content to it. It is first and foremost received from God, then directed back to God, and then, lived out toward neighbor. It’s sacrificial, others-centered, joyful, and obedient. This life of love is the Way of the Lord, and the reason for the title of this study.

The Ten Commandments are an expression of the love Jesus commands in his summary of the Law. The great commandment is to love God with our whole being and the second commandment is like it, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. But even that word from our Lord Jesus is general, and even vague. Yet he could speak in such a way because he knew he was summarizing something more detailed and specific, something his first-century audience would have understood.

In speaking of the two great commandments, Jesus was really summarizing the moral Law of God, the Ten Commandments. The first table of the law, for example, which contains the first four commandments, focuses primarily, though not exclusively, on our love for God. The second table addresses the nature of neighbor-love, which as we learn throughout Scripture, is also an expression of our love for God.

This 11-Lesson, in-depth Bible study on the Ten Commandments will help you discover that there is much more than meets the eye when it comes to the Law of God. This study will work well for individuals, with a small group, or as a guide for a larger Bible study.

Click here to learn more about the study or to buy it.

Daily Surrenders

The Dilemma

No person fails on purpose. Yet, spiritual, and moral failures abound. A few years ago, I taught a lesson to my church’s men’s group which focused on temptations men face. The workbook we were using quoted C.S. Lewis on this subject and was a turning point for many in the group. Lewis wrote,

It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the person away from the light and out into the nothing… Indeed, the safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

The truth communicated by Lewis rang true. It reminded me of something a former mentor of mine once said. He emphasized repeatedly that compromise comes through the smallness of our daily surrenders.

It’s giving up that little bit of personal conviction each day. It’s the little piece of candy no one will ever know you ate. It’s watching that program or visiting that website when you are all alone. You get the picture.

Usually the first surrender to “small, insignificant sins” makes it easier to fall prey to them again and again. The damage comes from the “cumulative effect” Lewis was pointing to. Few people wake up in the morning planning to sin spectacularly later in the day. Yet those daily surrenders build up over time. Give a little ground here and there and before you know it, you’re in trouble. In fact, you become practically unrecognizable, even to yourself. You didn’t plan for this to happen, but those daily surrenders were enough to do the trick.

The Solution

Therefore, we must be vigilant. We need to work from the foundation of knowing who we are in Christ. We need to count ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11). Those “daily surrenders” needn’t reign over us. The same Spirit who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead dwells in us as well.

Yet, we also need to exercise the self-awareness that recognizes those areas in our lives wherein we are weak. Every person ought to ask himself or herself: Am I being less watchful in some areas of my life than others? Even the small, seemingly insignificant areas? Am I overly confident I would never again fall prey to that particular temptation? A member of my church used to remind me often, “to be forewarned is to be forearmed.”

If you want to avoid those small daily surrenders, then pray for God to deliver you from temptation. But don’t forget to do your part. Name those temptations in advance. Talk with a godly person you trust and ask them to hold you accountable. Renew your mind daily in God’s Word. The Apostle Paul shared God’s wisdom on this point when he wrote in Philippians 4:8-9,

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

What are you thinking on?

Walking Points

  • What are those areas in your life that tempt you the most?
  • How do they usually “sneak up” on you?
  • What are some ways you can see such temptations before they get to you?
  • What are some practical things you can do to resist them once you’re confronted with them?
  • Set an appointment today with a Christian brother or sister and ask him to pray for you and to help keep you accountable.

Prayer

Merciful and patient Lord, I don’t want to sin. I don’t want to “fail on purpose.” Yet I confess to you that I have not always put in place or practiced those wise spiritual disciplines that would draw me ever closer to you and protect me from the snares of the devil and my own fleshly weaknesses. Please forgive me and renew me. As David cried out, put a right spirit within me. Give me such a desire for you that turning away from you would be the last thing on my mind. Give me greater Spirit-enabled self-discipline and self-control to practice those means of grace you have given to your children to help us conform more and more to the likeness of your Son, our Lord and Savior. For it’s in his name and for his sake I pray. Amen.

Skill in the Art of Living

Our Need for Wisdom

Per the previous post, if we’re going to consider such things joy, and persevere through them, we’re going to need God’s wisdom instead of the wisdom of the world.

Wisdom, like faith, is a gift from God. In a real sense, to pray for wisdom reveals that God has already given you enough wisdom to pray for more, and that’s an encouraging thought indeed. And so, we must ask at this point, “what is wisdom”?

Ken Boa defines wisdom this way:

Wisdom has less to do with knowledge than it has to do with the application of knowledge in very specific ways. Wisdom is skill in the art of living life with each component under the dominion of God.

The Hebrew word for “wisdom” in the Old Testament is hokmah. In many places in the Old Testament, where you read the word “skill” or “wise” or “wisdom” it is the same Hebrew word, hokmah. Here are some examples,

  • Exodus 28:3 – Tell all the skilled men to whom I have given wisdom in such matters that they are to make garments for Aaron, for his consecration, so he may serve me as priest.
  • Exodus 35:35 – He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as craftsmen, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers – all of them master craftsmen and designers.
  • Isaiah 40:20 – A man too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot. He looks for a skilled craftsman to set up an idol that will not topple.

Those italicized words rendered as, “skill” or “skilled,” are also rendered, “wise” or “wisdom,” elsewhere in the Old Testament. That is why Boa’s definition of wisdom carries the idea of “skill in the art of living.” It is the art of applying knowledge and understanding to concrete and specific situations we face in life. That is why I mentioned a couple of posts ago that wisdom assumes knowledge, even though it is not the same thing.

What are areas of life in which we need such skill for living – the ability to apply knowledge to concrete areas of our lives?

  • What job to take or whether you should start your own business
  • How to best prioritize the hours of your day
  • How to best encourage and/or discipline your children
  • Whether or not to lovingly confront, correct, or guide a close friend who is going down a bad path

Those are just a few very “real life” situations we find ourselves in every day. I’m sure you can easily think of many more. Asking such questions is easy. Discovering the right answers is far more difficult. Wisdom from God is required.

Pray for Wisdom

In the pursuit of wisdom, prayer is needed. Again, James reminds us to pray for wisdom because it is a gift from God. Whether your trial comes from outside yourself or an inner conflict from within, you must pray for God to give you the wisdom needed for the moment.

And so we pray because wisdom comes from God. However, we also pray because God wants us to pray. Such prayer shows dependence upon God. More than that, God doesn’t begrudgingly give wisdom. It actually delights God to give wisdom to his children. Look at what James says in verse 5,

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

What James writes in verse 5 about wisdom is what Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:9-11, about all of God’s good gifts.

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

When you ask for the things God wants you to ask for, he is more than eager to give them to you. He wants to. Jesus promises that to us. And James repeats the promise, in the context of the gift of wisdom. In fact, James goes so far as to say “it will” be given to you.

In 1 Kings 3:1-15, Solomon was told by God to pray for anything he wanted. Solomon could have asked for power, money, or a long life. Instead, he knew he needed God’s wisdom to lead God’s people. This pleased God greatly. Thus, not only did God give him much wisdom, but he also gave him riches and honor. Praying for wisdom pleases God.

Pray with Humble Confidence

James tells us to pray for wisdom and that it pleases God when we do. Yet he also cautions us to pray in a particular manner.

But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (James 1:6-8)

Half-hearted prayers will not be answered because they actually call into question God’s character. Why such strong words? Because, just from the texts we’ve already looked at in this post, we have observed that God is good and wants to give his good gifts to his children when they ask him for them. And wisdom is one of those good gifts.

James doesn’t have in mind here the intellectual doubts we all wrestle with from time to time. Instead, he’s linking “doubt” to the “double-minded man.” This person, according to Scripture, is someone who is divided between being “self-centered” and “God-centered.” That’s why James uses the idea of a wave in the sea which is tossed to and fro by the wind. In a similar way, the double-minded person is tossed to and fro between self and God. The double-minded person doesn’t pray with faith in God and in his promises.

In this case, doubting is more akin to trusting yourself more than trusting in God. It’s to offer a prayer that sounds a little like this:

Dear Lord, I know you don’t have time to hear me, especially when I’m bringing you something no more important than this particular issue. I mean, you have wars and famines you have to deal with and here I am with this small issue. Not only that, but I’m sure you would rather I figure things out myself than bother you with them. After all, that’s why you have given me a brain. But if you’re not too busy and you’re willing, I’ll take whatever leftover wisdom you may have for me. Thanks.

That’s not exactly a prayer that is oozing over with confidence in our great and loving God, is it? It doesn’t really capture the goodness of our Lord who wants to give good gifts, like wisdom, to his children. Instead, it pictures the image of “waves in the sea” that James wrote about. They are being blown here one moment and then another direction the next. James wants us to pray with the expectation that God will give us the wisdom we need – not begrudgingly – but lovingly, graciously, and willingly.

May this be the wisdom you expectantly, passionately, and humbly pray for and pursue, for God wants you to get wisdom.

Walking Points

  • Do you pray for wisdom? Why or why not?
  • Do you pray for wisdom the way James describes? Why or why not?
  • How would you describe the difference between wisdom and knowledge to a friend?
  • What are five of the most important and urgent areas of your life right now where you know you need God’s wisdom?
  • What is it about those five areas that leads you to believe God’s wisdom is needed? Take some time now and pray for that wisdom.